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‘It’s just grueling’ » Among the study’s most instructive findings was the array of reasons, noted in police reports, that cases fizzled: "Victim did not want to pursue." "Uncooperative victim." "Unable to contact victim."
By far the most common obstacle was that the victims would not or could not participate in their own cases.
"At every step, it’s common for [victims] to feel they’re not believed," said Rape Recovery Center Director Holly Mullen. "They feel judged. It takes an enormous amount of grit to keep going."
In some cases, the victim’s first interview is conducted by a patrol officer with little expertise in sex crimes, Mullen said. Many victims suffer from PTSD, which affects their immediate memories and testimony. Although trauma experts have devised interview techniques for people in distress, few detectives or attorneys have been trained in what Gill described as a "victim-centered approach."
In a case this year, Mullen said, one victim said her police report turned into an inquiry of her own sexual behavior: "How often did you have sex this month, consensually? How much do you typically have sex?" Mullen recounted. "The victim was really troubled by this."
Even if interviews go well — most large departments have dedicated rape experts — victims may lose resolve in the long wait for physical evidence, Mullen said. If a rape kit is sent for analysis, which is not guaranteed, it typically takes four to five months to process, said State Crime Lab director Jay Henry.
Meanwhile, further contact with investigators and prosecutors may give the victim a bitter taste of the questioning to come.
"They’re getting reactions: ‘The story is not looking quite as clear, there was drinking involved.’ The attorney might be saying, ‘This is going to be really hard to prosecute because of conflicting evidence and testimony,’" Mullen said. "We’re dealing with people who have lived through some terrible trauma. Ninety percent have low to no income. And it’s just grueling. At some point, unless a person has huge determination and a lot of support, it’s very hard to have the energy and self-confidence to push these cases on your own."
When victims want to drop a case, there is little investigators can do.
"If the victim is adamant they don’t want to go forward, we can’t manipulate them to keep going," said Unified Police Department Lt. Justin Hoyal.
‘It’s the trauma’ » Valentine gathered the data as part of a nationwide study by the National Institute of Justice on rape prosecution rates. The national study’s pilot research includes two other, unnamed urban sites — not a vast body of data, Valentine concedes, but those sites reported similar resources and procedures for rape cases, allowing for some comparison to Salt Lake County.
In the other urban sites, total prosecution rates were 9 and 15 percent, compared to just 6 percent in Salt Lake County. Those sites reported 82 and 84 percent of their audited rape cases were never charged, compared to 91 percent in Salt Lake County.
Gill said he plans in the next 6 months to change how adult rape cases are processed. Unlike child sex crimes, which are uniformly handled by multi-disciplinary teams of victim advocates, medical experts, attorneys and police who specialize in sexual violence, adult rapes have no consistent protocol. Gill said bringing all parties together for adult rape cases would pressure every party to be "on their A-game" for each case, and would ensure continuous care for victims. A holistic approach also enables responders to identify barriers keeping victims from following through with cases and possibly resolve them.
"There is more than enough data to show its success in other kinds of cases," Gill said. "That a similar approach is not being used for adult [rape] victims is really a step back."
Police agencies also are seeking help to better interview rape victims. Donna Kelly, a deputy attorney general and sexual assault resource prosecutor, has been training police and prosecutors around the state in "trauma-informed response" since 2012, when a grant created her position.
"New research on the neurobiology of trauma … [shows that] signs of trauma may be very similar to what police officers have been trained to believe is lying," Kelly said. The results can be devastating for a rape victim.
Starting in January, Kelly will help West Valley City police to revamp their entire rape-response protocol.
"Officers are hungry for this information," she said. "They don’t understand the bizarre behavior of victims. Now we have an answer: It’s the trauma."
Police agencies meanwhile hope victims aren’t discouraged from making reports.Next Page >
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